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Michael J. Sheehan

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Michael J. Sheehan
Michael Sheehan was born 17th December 1870 at Newtown, Waterford City, County Waterford, Ireland. His father, born and bred in Newmarket, County Cork, owned an export business. His mother was an Anglican, the daughter of a Church of Ireland minister. Mr and Mrs Sheehan had ten children, of whom Michael was the sixth. In 1880, the family went to reside in Dungarvan, County Waterford, in a two-storey house in Mitchell Street.

Michael was educated privately, then for 1½ years at the Christian Brothers. Next he spent nearly four years at the Augustinian School, Dungarvan; then three semesters (1½ years) at the seminary of St John’s College, Waterford. In 1890 he was transferred to the seminary of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where in addition to the usual philosophy, theology, Latin and Greek, he studied Irish, English, Italian and French. Having brilliantly completed the full course there in 2½ years before he was 23, he was appointed lecturer at St John’s College, Waterford, in 1894, and continued to study theology privately, pending canonical age for ordination. He was ordained a priest in 1895, obtained an M.A. from the Royal University of Ireland the same year, and taught liberal arts at St John’s for two years. In 1897 he obtained an M.A. in Classics from Oxford University. That year he was appointed to the Chair of Ancient Classics in Maynooth. Later he studied at German universities: one semester at Greifswald, studying Latin, Greek and Sanskrit; and three semesters at Bonn, gaining his Ph.D. in Classics there in 1901 with his thesis, written in Latin (not unusual for the time), on the Athenian orator Isocrates. Dr Sheehan was Commissioner of Intermediate Education for Ireland 1906-1922. He was Professor of Greek at Maynooth College 1905-1922, and its Vice-President 1919-1922.

On 22nd February 1922 he was named titular archbishop of Germia when appointed Co-adjutor Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. He was consecrated on 28th May. In August, on his way to Australia, he stopped off at Rome, staying at the Irish College. He had an audience with Pope Pius XI, in which they spoke German.

In Sydney, Dr Sheehan lived in an Italianate two-storey home at the corner of Broughton Rd and Meredith St, Homebush. As Co-adjutor Archbishop, he was distinguished for his culture, unfailing piety and gentle kindness. In 1924, he re-launched the quarterly journal, the Australasian Catholic Record, and became a regular contributor to it, while virtually acting as its editor. He retained episcopal office in Sydney until his resignation in 1937 after it had been made clear to him by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Panico, that because he was Irish he would not succeed Dr Kelly as Archbishop of Sydney. At the announcement of Dr Sheehan’s resignation, it was most likely Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne who authored the public letter to him “from the Bishops and Archbishops of Australia,” saying, “The news of your resignation … filled us all with sorrow and consternation, for we realise that your going is an irreparable loss to the Church in Australia—a real tragedy.”

Retiring to Ireland, Archbishop Sheehan lived in Dublin, at the Holy Ghost Fathers, but he often visited Ring, County Waterford (four miles from Dungarvan), where he once used to spend his holidays among the fishing folk there. It was in Ring that he had first learnt Irish from an aged woman, and in 1906 had co-founded an Irish College, which is still thriving today. Although he had not spoken Irish in his childhood, he became proficient in it and wrote six works in Irish, including studies of the language.

Dr Sheehan wrote two other books of religious instruction, A Child’s Book of Religion (1934), and A Simple Course of Religion (1937). He had a great interest also in plant-lore and botany and co-authored a book on that subject in Irish. His scholarship, clear mind and wonderful expression are exemplified in Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine.

Archbishop Sheehan

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